by Roger McCay
8 December 2019
Sermon Passage: Philippians 4:1-7
Link to Audio Version
Life is tough, and it is full of strife. In a way, every day can be another day of war for us—certainly on the spiritual plane. And, because we are sinners, it is a rare thing to live in perfect harmony with everybody. Sometimes, our biggest troubles come from those we love the most: our family, even our church family. The strife of life can leave us in a perpetual state of worry and anxiety; anger … Yet, Christians are not called to lives of anxiety, we are called to lives of peace, even when we are in the midst of war.
Just prior to our passage today, the Apostle Paul, in Phil. 3:20, stated, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” With this statement, Paul adjusts our focus. Rather than only focusing on earthly, temporal things, Christians must keep the larger picture in mind, by focusing on what really matters. That is, whatever it is we are dealing with in the world, as elect sojourners (1 Pt. 1:1) we are always a people who are united in Christ and citizens of the Kingdom of God. Jesus reigns now over all things. He is King and Lord. And, at any moment, he may return bringing the consummation of the Kingdom.
With this reality in focus, Paul wrote in our passage today concerning the peace that Christians should have, because of this reality. He explains how we come to this peace—a peace that “surpasses all understanding.”
In vv. 2-3 Paul calls for a particular peace and unity among the body of the church in Philippi. He instructed Euodia and Syntych, two women in the church, to settle a disagreement they were having. These women were clearly believers that Paul knew well, and had even “labored side by side with [him] in the Gospel.” To ensure that peace was restored, Paul called a particular individual to be a mediator in the situation. As Paul was in prison in Rome, and he knew about the disagreement, it must have been quite a doozy. Therefore, it is very likely they were causing a great deal of strife, and, perhaps, division in the local body because of their argument. Such a situation was one that had to be dealt with. And, perhaps, the church leadership was at a loss as to what to do about it. So, Paul sent authoritative instructions towards that end. The unity, sanctity, and peace of the church was just too important for him to remain mum.
Hence, when we come to v. 4, the immediate context is Paul’s urging for two women to settle a quarrel they were having: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
Now, why, do you think Paul make such a statement in that context? Well, he is again readjusting focus. With the right perspective – a Kingdom perspective, with Jesus Christ (our Lord and Savior as the ruling King) and eternity before us, we cannot help but rejoice in the Lord.
But what does it mean to rejoice, much less rejoice always? It is important to understand that v. 4 is not a suggestion. This statement is an imperative command. We are commanded to rejoice always.
Now, I know that may seem a pretty tough demand, even unreasonable, considering some of the things that life sends our way, for example, the loss of a loved one. However, rejoicing always is, actually, a reasonable concept, doable, even spontaneous, when we realize deep down where our rejoicing is rooted. Rejoicing is not rooted in our happiness. Rather, rejoicing is rooted in the Lord. Indeed, rejoicing actually comes from the Lord. Hence, “Rejoice in the Lord.”
When we rejoice, it comes out of our joy, which is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). This fruit of the Spirit is possessed by all true Christians, everywhere, for we have the Spirit of God indwelling us (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Tim. 1:14). Therefore, joy is one of our attributes, a virtue of a Christian. It is the result of our being in the Lord and fellowshipping with him. It flows out of our assurance in Christ that he is King and Lord, ruling over all things, and working all things to the good of his people (Rom. 8:28). It flows out of our confidence that he loves us whatever may come (Rom. 8:39). It flows out of our secure living hope and eternal inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-5). It flows out of knowledge that our trials have a purpose in God’s plan—to test the genuineness of our faith and to refine us with fire (1 Peter 1:6-7). And, it flows out of our love for him, and hope in him (1 Peter 1:8). The Lord has us in his hand; we are secure in him; our inheritance awaits us. Nothing can change this. Our joy lies in our Lord – and he is unshakeable!
In utter contrast, happiness is a fleeting thing. And, like someone said, happiness is a “virtue of the world.” Happiness relies on external things that we can have or acquire. But such things can all be taken from us in a flash. So, happiness comes and goes. Happiness also gets overwhelmed by the stronger emotions of grief and anguish. No-one is happy all the time. Jesus wasn’t even happy all the time. John 11:35; Luke 22:44. Consider the contrasts of Mark 14:34, where Jesus expresses his anxiety: “My soul is sorrowful, even to death.” But then in Heb. 12:2, which says, “Jesus … for the joy set before him endured the cross.” If we root our rejoicing in happiness, then we make a mistake.
Yet, when our joy is rooted in the Lord, our outlook, our perspective, is one that transcends our present circumstances. So, like in the case of Euodia and Syntych, when Christians disagree, it is completely logical that they can come to agreement in the Lord. It may be that they agree to disagree, but, their selfish interests and the potential to harbor bitter feelings, anger and other sorts of sinful things that crop up when two people disagree; such things are put in an eternal perspective, are seen for what they are, and dissipate.
Sure, such peace among brethren isn’t always easy and immediate. It takes focusing on Christ. It takes prayer (v. 6). It takes a willingness to forgive. It takes a desire and willingness for peace. And, in some cases, it requires a mediator to help move things along. If both parties involved are, indeed, believers, then, in faith and humble obedience to the Lord, they love their brother and sister in Christ, even putting that person before themselves. They live a life of joy, rejoicing in Christ. Hence, peace.
Take a look at the second part of v. 5: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” Now, some translations render the Greek word here as “gentleness,” some as “moderation,” and some, like the ESV, render it as “reasonableness.” Considering the context, it seems evident that the thrust of the meaning of the word is towards the idea of a having a “forbearing spirit.”
The world witnesses how we interact with one another as Christians. What they see either brings credibility to our witness for Christ in our integrity of our words and actions, or it does not. Therefore, it is vitally important to our witness for Christ in the world for us to continue to seek to maintain unity and peace among the brethren. Forbearance is an integral part of maintaining that peace.
So, if we have a forbearing spirit, it means that even in the midst of personal slights (real or imagined), or disagreements, we are willing to bear the insult or bear with not asserting our sense of “right.” Hence, 1 Cor. 6:7: “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” Such is a humble, loving, and gentle stance. It is one with a Kingdom perspective. It follows the example of our Lord – Phil. 2:1-5. And, it is simply obedience. John 13:34-35: The Lord said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In our forbearance we show love, and so, are a witness to the gospel before the watching world.
A good friend once shared with me the story of his home church. The congregation had decided that they wanted a cross in the sanctuary. But, the type of cross to put up became an issue. There were those who wanted a plain wood cross, and others wanted a fancy cross. This disagreement got so out of hand, and, apparently, there were so many bitter things said by both parties towards the other party, that peace was just thrown out the window. It got so bad the church split and the pastor resigned. Doesn’t that just seem crazy? But, it happened. Clearly, this church had lost their Kingdom perspective.
Imagine what the people in the community thought about it. Do you think such strife and division impacted the witness of the church for the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you think the Lord was honored by those claiming his name?
In the second part of v. 5 Paul also reminds us, “The Lord is near.” We can interpret this statement in a couple of ways. One way is that “the Lord is literally near us,” since he is always present with us. Another is that his “second coming,” his “return,” is near.
Paul seems to have inserted this statement as a reminder. The fact that the Lord is near is an overarching reason for our peace, our rejoicing, and our witness. It is a reason for us to love one another.
So, is there a relationship in your life, particularly with another Christian, where there is strife between you? Perhaps it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s just some other believer with whom you’ve had a disagreement; another member of our congregation; another believer in the community; or, maybe someone on Facebook, with whom you exchanged harsh words over some post.
Have you sought to bring peace between yourself and that person? If not, make a commitment to seek the peace. Seek that peace starting today. First, like the Apostle said, “Rejoice in the Lord!” Then, let that rejoicing be a mutual expression of love between yourself and that one with whom you struggle. And let that mutual bond of love then establish peace, as it is from the Lord. Because the Lord is at hand, we must seek peace among our brethren.
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
As Christmas comes around once again, we revisit such themes as “peace on earth.” It’s a statement extracted from Luke 2, when the angels proclaimed the birth of Christ. It’s on Christmas cards, ornaments, and other holiday trappings. It’s something nice to think about, a nice sentiment, I suppose. But does it reflect what we see as we look around at the world?
Without listing a host of details that you can find at a glance from any news source, it is safe to say, we do not see peace on earth. Can we find peace? If we can, where? Where can we find peace?
The Sunday School answer is …. Yes, Jesus. The Lord is at hand, and it is in him that we find peace. Paul tells us that in the Lord we have no need to be “anxious about anything.”
Now, you might think, “Well, that is all well and good for Paul, but what does he know about trouble and worry?” What does he know about the chronic anxiety and depression, or PTSD, for example?
Remember, Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this. And he knew what it meant to experience terrible troubles, excruciating pain, trauma, hunger, and so forth—including being anxious. Consider 2 Cor. 11:27-28, particularly v. 28 where he wrote, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” Paul understood what troubles could avail us from his own experiences. He was not some ivory tower professor, speaking knowledge without understanding. He knew that anxiety was a real thing. He’s not condemning us for being anxious at times. What he is saying here, in Phil. 4:6, is that anxiety doesn’t have to dominate our lives. He found this truth in the Lord (who, if you remember, was quite anxious at the Garden of Gethsemane with the cross looming – Matt. 26:37 and Luke 22:44), and Paul understood it from his own experience.
Indeed, Paul reiterates what the Lord himself had proclaimed in Matthew 6. Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,” and other things that might cause us to worry. Rather than worrying about these things, Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” As Christians, seeking the Kingdom of God and his righteousness is a primary calling upon our lives. It involves the entire concept of trusting and following Jesus in obedience.
As we go about this endeavor, we pray. It is what we do. We pray with Jesus’ promise in mind, from Matt. 7, where he said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” Jesus taught that God provides for our needs. We, his people, are the Father’s children. We don’t have to worry about our needs. And we should take our requests to the Lord with confidence. Matt. 7:9-11:
Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Hence, in v. 6, here in Phil. 4, Paul mentions the primary way we find peace is by “prayer.” “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Notice it is not in certain select things, but in everything that we pray! When troubles come, we pray! When we are grieving, we pray! When we struggle, we pray! When things are good, we pray! When we are blessed with prosperity, we pray! Standing on the promises of God, we pray confidently, in his grace. Trusting him, having put everything upon him, anxiety loses its power over us, and we find rest in him.
And so, v. 7.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Peace comes from the Lord. In his love we have joy; in joy we rejoice; in our trust in him, anxiety loses its hold; we can escape its debilitating effects, finding “the peace of God.” This peace transcends the troubles of this mortal plane. It is a gift from God. It is not contrived. It is not a worldly peace, based on worldly understandings. Indeed, it is a heavenly peace, surpassing all understanding. Such peace serves a purpose. It is a guardian, put in place by God. God’s peace guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Even when the world is crumbling around us in chaos, the peace of God guards us from the devastating effects such turmoil can have upon our soul.
Perhaps you are here today, and you struggle with an inner anger, or turmoil of some kind. Perhaps it has simmered for years. Maybe there is an object for that anger. Maybe you are angry at God. Or, perhaps, you are just angry, and you can’t really put your finger on why that is. Perhaps you are suffering from the devastation of betrayal by a loved one. Or, it could be that you are so loaded down with debt, that you just have no idea at all how you will ever get it paid off, and the creditors are hounding you. Whatever the reason, maybe you are sitting out there today, and the last thing you can say about your soul is that you are at peace.
Have you prayed about it? Many times, I’ve asked folks, who are dealing with troubles, if they’ve prayed about the situation, and they’ve told me “No.” I always wonder at this. Don’t be like that! Pray! Pray that the Lord will give you that peace that surpasses understanding. Turn your worries, turn your anger, turn your grief, turn those things that trouble you over to him. Pray in every situation! For when we pray, we’ve put our troubles in God’s hands.
When the Lord bears the weighty things that are upon our heart, we find peace. Peace is his gift to us in his Son, and it is something we can have within ourselves whatever may come. Because the Lord is at hand, we must seek peace in our soul.
During this Advent Season, like every advent season, we will hear and sing the song “Joy to the World.” In fact, it is our hymn of response today: “Joy to the World, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King.” The Lord our King has come! He came that morning, which we celebrate every Christmas. And now, King Jesus is at hand, reigning over all things. He will come again.
With an eternal perspective, as citizens of that Kingdom, we can find peace—peace with our brethren and peace in our soul. The Lord is near. That is true cause to rejoice. And, because the Lord is at hand, we must seek his peace.
 James Montgomery Boice, Philippians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 235–236.